Can “Coffee and a Donut” Do the Trick?

by Charles Platkin, PhD

I’ve heard all kinds of great things about — it helps you to lose weight, live longer, and improve your memory — it almost sounds worthy of a late night infomercial. That all sounds splendid, but in the meantime, your phone is ringing and you’re trying to get the kids to school, all while making a mad dash to work. Okay, maybe you can grab something on the run — a cup of to get the engine started, and maybe a muffin or donut. But what if that’s all you eat — is it better than nothing?

“Probably — it depends on who you are. If you are elderly and have lost weight recently, that donut is good ! If you are young and overweight, you need to realize that neither of these choices are good [having no breakfast or a donut]. Get a grip and eat something better!” says Susan Roberts, Chief of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University.

How do other types of breakfast perform? (As a reference, a person who needs 2,000 calories per day should eat approximately 500 calories and less than 16 grams of fat for breakfast, while keeping total daily fat intake at less than 66 grams.)

EGGS: Two hardboiled eggs have about 160 calories and 10 grams of fat, but when you cook two eggs in butter (restaurant style), you’re looking at about 400 calories and 30 grams of fat. What makes matters worse is that most of us don’t just stop with the eggs — we add on buttered toast, hash browns, French fries, sausage, bacon, grits, biscuits, croissants or bagels.

Suggestion: Try egg whites cooked with no-fat cooking spray (e.g. Pam) — only 20 calories per egg white.

MUFFINS, SCONES, AND CROISSANTS: Nutritionally speaking, you might as well have a slice of cake.

  • Dunkin’ Bran Muffin: 410 calories, 14 grams of fat.
  • Au Bon Pain Cinnamon Scone: 440 calories, 17 grams of fat.
  • Au Bon Pain Almond Croissant: 480 calories, 25 grams of fat.

Suggestion: Try reduced fat or fat-free versions.

  • Dunkin’ Donuts Low-Fat Blueberry Muffin: 250 calories, 2 grams of fat.
  • Au Bon Pain Low-Fat Chocolate Cake Muffin: 280 calories, 2 grams of fat.
  • Au Bon Pain Plain Croissant: 220 calories, 6 grams of fat.

CINNAMON BUNS: If you have absolutely no other choice and you’re ravenously hungry, these would be tolerable. Keep in mind though that they are high in calories and fat and lack significant nutritional value.

  • Cinnabon Caramel Pecanbon: 890 calories, 41 grams of fat.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts’ Cinnamon Bun: 510 calories, 15 grams of fat.

Suggestion: Try the Au Bon Pain Cinnamon Roll instead, with just 300 calories and 4 grams of fat.

CEREAL: Cereal can vary from “it might as well be candy” to “it’s healthy and tastes like cardboard.” But if you choose wisely, no other breakfast option offers as much fiber, calcium, and other nutrients for so few calories and so little fat.

  • Cheerios (2 cups): 220 calories, 4 grams of fat (without milk).
  • Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (2 cups): 374 calories, 3 grams of fat (without milk).

Suggestion: Try high-fiber, whole-grain, low-sugar cereals like shredded wheat or bran flakes.

DONUTS: Not all donuts are created equal — and I’m not talking about the difference between Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts. Cake donuts have double the fat as yeast donuts, and it really does matter whether or not you have chocolate frosting, sprinkles or glazed.

  • Dunkin’ Donuts Chocolate Frosted Yeast Donut: 200 calories, 9 grams of fat.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts Toasted Coconut Cake Donut: 300 calories, 17 grams of fat.

Suggestion: Go for the low-calorie yeast donuts, and skip the “buy three, get one free” offer.

BAGELS: A plain bagel is a great low-fat alternative to some other breakfast breads such as muffins, cinnamon buns, or donuts. But watch out for serving sizes of the bagel and the topping.

  • Jumbo bagel (6 oz.): 480 calories, 4 grams of fat.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts plain bagel (4.5 oz.) with 4 tbsp of regular cream cheese: 540 calories, 23 grams of fat.

Suggestion: Scooping out the inside of the bagel can save you up to half the calories. Additionally, try low-fat cream cheese or only 2 tablespoons of the full-fat variety.

  • Dunkin’ Donuts plain bagel (4.5 oz): 340 calories, 2.5 gram of fat.
  • Einstein Bros. plain bagel (4.5 oz.) with low-fat cream cheese: 380 calories, 6 grams of fat.

SMOOTHIE: These can be pretty healthy, and very filling — but you should avoid those made with ice cream, whole milk or cream, nuts or peanut butter.

  • Jamba Juice Orange Dream Machine (24 oz.): 540 calories, 2.5 grams of fat.
  • Smoothie King Pineapple Surf (20 oz.): 440 calories, 1 gram of fat.

Suggestion: Make your own smoothies at home with a blender and some fresh fruit. If you want to add other foods, use non-fat milk, cottage cheese, or low-fat yogurt.

FRENCH TOAST AND PANCAKES: This isn’t what nutritionists mean by “starting your day with a healthy breakfast.”

  • 4 medium size pancakes with syrup: 870 calories, 16 grams of fat.
  • 3 slices of French toast with syrup: 800 calories, 26 grams of fat.

Suggestion: 2 slices of egg white French toast (or 2 pancakes) with some fruit instead of syrup is only 300 calories.

SANDWICHES: It’s not easy to get a low-fat, healthy breakfast from most of the fast food restaurants.

  • McDonald’s Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit: 470 calories, 28 grams of fat.
  • Burger King’s Croissan’wich with Sausage and Cheese: 450 calories, 35 grams of fat.
  • McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg: 450 calories, 28 grams of fat (most people have two).

Suggestion: Have only one plain Egg McMuffin, order it without the Canadian Bacon and American cheese, and skip the hash browns.

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